Pianist Lara Downes has assembled a collection of miniatures and songs by, and inspired by Leonard Bernstein, to help commemorate his hundredth birthday. In the album For Lenny, she includes the musical portraits that he wrote for friends, and in turn, tributes to him in the same spirit by those who knew and admired him.

There’s more about the project at Lara Downes‘ website, and if you sign up to receive our eNotes newsletter (see the top orange box in the right-hand column), you can get one of the tracks from the album as the KDFC Free Download.

“This actually started as a project that was centered around Bernstein’s Anniversaries for Piano. So I was going to record those, and then I had this idea to reach out to composers and ask for new pieces called Anniversaries for Lennie.  People who had known him, and had worked closely with him, people like Ned Rorem, John Corigliano. Then extending outwards to a circle of students and other people that he had mentored, Shulamit Ran, Daron Hagen.” There’s even a new work by Craig Urquhart, for whom Bernstein wrote one of his Anniversaries. “The Anniversaries are really these perfect little character sketches, you know? If you listen to the Anniversary for Aaron Copland, for example, it’s channeling Copland in this very loving way… When I asked composers to write Anniversaries for Lennie, I think that we really hit the same mark. I think that they were contributing character sketches of Bernstein, and those take so many different forms because people experienced him in so many different ways. There’s everything from very heartfelt, sort of lyrical quiet tributes to a piece by Shulamit Ran called Exuberance. And her inspiration for the piece was the energy that he had, the way he would bolt on stage, the way he would just take over a room, and you hear that in the music that she wrote.” The rest of the album has guest appearances (Kevin “K.O.” Olusola, Javier Morales-Martinez, Rhiannon Giddens and Thomas Hampson) as well as some Bernstein works that aren’t as well known. “Part of this project was just showing the undiscovered gems,” Downes says.